Osage Nation files suit against Wind Capital Group in federal court

The Osage Nation has filed a federal lawsuit seeking an injunction against Wind Capital Group, arguing that a proposed 94-turbine wind farm near Burbank will interfere with oil and gas production on the Osage Minerals Estate.

On Oct. 18, the Nation, through the Osage Minerals Council, filed the complaint in U.S. District Court in Tulsa. The complaint asks the court to declare the project a violation of federal law and requests the court “should issue both preliminary and permanent injunctions prohibiting (Wind Capital Group) from moving forward with the Osage County Wind Project.”

“Federal regulations governing the leasing of Osage Nation’s Minerals Estate guarantee the right to use so much of the surface above the mineral estate as may be reasonable…” the complaint states. “The defendant’s Osage County Wind Project will interfere with the right of surface access, which will in turn cause serious and immediate harm to the Osage Nation, including cancelled leases, inability to attract future leases, and the inability to benefit fully from the mineral estate through the use of new technologies.”

The court filing comes two months after the Osage County Board of Adjustment approved a conditional use permit for the 150-megawatt wind farm project on 8,500 privately owned acres near Burbank. It also comes a month after the Bureau of Indian Affairs sent letters to the Missouri-based Wind Capital Group advising similar concerns about having access to oil and gas production in the region, which is north of U.S. 60 near the State Highway 18 intersection.

Wind Capital Group spokesman Tony Wyche told the Osage News the company has “not yet seen the filing, so won’t be providing a statement at this time.”

Chris White, executive director of governmental affairs for Principal Chief John Red Eagle, also said the Executive Branch would have no immediate comment on the lawsuit filing.

According to the complaint, the Nation is in the process of exploring and developing the Mineral’s Estate in the proposed wind farm area. “Developing and marketing the natural gas will require the construction of flow lines and transmission lines within the (Minerals Estate. The defendants’ construction and operation of the Osage County Wind Project will illegally interfere with the construction, operation and maintenance of the flow lines and transmission lines to the detriment of the Osage mineral estate and the Osage Nation.”

Tom Green, senior manager of project development for Wind Capital Group, told the Osage News before the Aug. 11 meeting on the company’s permit that construction of a wind turbine would require 10 feet of digging for a concrete foundation and the underground collector system for the electric energy would stretch four feet below ground. “Each turbine will be connected to a centralized substation then (the electricity generated will be) taken into an overhead transmission line in the project area,” Green said.

Green defended the project stating the wind turbine construction would only cover 1 percent of the 8,500 acres at issue and that it would bring up to 250 construction jobs to the county. Green said construction would take approximately nine months, but the Nation notes those jobs are only temporary and the workers would leave if they are not from Osage County. Once built, 12-15 permanent jobs will be filled to run the wind farm operations, Green has said.  

In seeking a halt to the project, the Nation asks the court to find Wind Capital Group in violation of federal law, citing a Code of Federal Regulation which guarantees the Nation access to the Minerals Estate which is held in trust by the federal government. The Nation is also seeking incurred attorney fees and costs for the lawsuit.

Osage officials are meeting with U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary Larry Echohawk Oct. 20 to discuss the issue.